How Fear the Walking Dead helped me through my mom’s cancer diagnosis

Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey) in Fear the Walking Dead Season 1Photo by Justin Lubin/AMC
Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey) in Fear the Walking Dead Season 1Photo by Justin Lubin/AMC /

The TWD Family has long credited The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead with helping them through tough times, and I recently experienced it firsthand.

There are three words that no one ever wants to hear, and no matter how much you think you can handle them they will tear you apart: “ You have cancer.” Last week I had to take my mom to the hospital because she wasn’t feeling well, and in the course of being there we learned she has stage 4 cancer. It was a massive blow to my entire family, and as we struggle to deal with our new normal I found that it was Fear the Walking Dead that has been helping me cope.

Fear the Walking Dead season 5 revolves around themes of hope and redemption. But the reason the show has been integral to my experience is much simpler. It’s the fact that the show, along with The Walking Dead, brings people together.

My mom was in the hospital for a week and I was there day and night. Whenever a new person came into the room, my mom was quick to start up a conversation. Like any proud mama, she told everyone that one of her daughters is a pastry chef and the other one writes for Undead Walking.

To my surprise, an overwhelming majority of the nurses, therapists and even doctors watch Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead, and this allowed for an instant connection. It took the edge off of a stressful situation to be able to chat about the shows before getting down to business.

Don’t Open

It just so happens that this hospital, which has been operating for about 30 years, was recently replaced by a brand new facility nearby. When my mom was admitted she was sent to the fourth floor. It took me a while to figure out what was so strange about her floor until it hit me: It was empty. As it happens, the fourth floor used to house Maternity, Labor and Delivery and Pediatrics and now they’re over at the new hospital. Now the massive fourth floor is dedicated to one small unit that is home to 13 patients.

A set of double doors leading to one of the many closed wings of the hospital. All that’s missing is “Don’t Open Dead Inside”. Photo: Sarabeth Pollock
A set of double doors leading to one of the many closed wings of the hospital. All that’s missing is “Don’t Open Dead Inside”. Photo: Sarabeth Pollock /

Yeah. 13 patients.

Only one-eighth of the entire floor is occupied. And it genuinely looks like everyone just up and vanished. (One of my mom’s nurses was a Russian man and he laughed when I suggested it looked like a scene from Chernobyl) Several nurses admitted that they don’t like walking down the hallway after dark because of how creepy it is.

Eventually the double doors and the empty hospital ward beyond them reminded me of something else: The Walking Dead.

As you can see in the photos, the double doors are missing the iconic phrase “Don’t Open Dead Inside,” but one look through the window reveals that it looks like the people simply disappeared. The beds still have sheets and the gurneys are strewn through the rooms and hallways like they had patients in them at some point. Even the Pediatric Ward, with its cheery artwork on the wall, looked downright creepy.

View inside one of the abandoned wings of the hospital. Photo: Sarabeth Pollock
View inside one of the abandoned wings of the hospital. Photo: Sarabeth Pollock /

The respiratory therapist, who is a HUGE fan of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, was excited to talk about the show and reveal that at a previous job he and his buddy used to play “zombies” to scare the nurses. He’d get on a morgue gurney and “reanimate” in the elevator after a cue from his friend. He, too, saw the similarities between the abandoned floor and Rick’s experience waking up in an empty hospital in the first episode.

He also noted that while he’s a huge fan of The Walking Dead universe, he’s usually eating dinner when the show airs and even though he works in the medical profession there are times when Greg Nicotero’s creations force him to look away while he’s eating….

It’s hard to find humor when you’re tucked away in the Medical-Surgical Oncology Ward, but when the rest of the floor looks like a scene from “Days Gone Bye” it makes for some unique conversations.

Season 1, Episode 1

Thankfully, being a writer affords me the opportunity to work anywhere and so I spent many a night hunkered down in her hospital room trying to write. I even interviewed Austin Amelio from the hallway.

Even though my mom and I were already close, the long days and sleepless nights gave us time to talk. She’s a big fan of The Walking Dead and so she asked about my interview and what Dwight was going to do on Fear the Walking Dead. She’s never watched Fear, so she didn’t understand how that was going to work.

When she finally came home a week after this odyssey began, she needed things to watch and she was already caught up with most Netflix shows. I realized that this was the perfect chance to have her watch Fear the Walking Dead.

I turned on Hulu and went to season 1 episode 1 of Fear the Walking Dead. She was hooked from the moment it started. It’s fascinating to hear her observations about the show given that she has been able to blow through the episodes back to back to back. She’s convinced there’s something going on with “the barber” (Salazar) and “the man in the suit” (Strand) is “a real character.”

As of this writing we’re up to season 2 episode 6 and she’s loving it. She knows that Morgan and Dwight are joining the show later on and she’s looking forward to seeing how it all happened.

Being able to share The Walking Dead with my mom has always been fun, but being able to share Fear the Walking Dead with her at this point in time is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. I love hearing her thoughts and seeing how she views the show, and watching what stands out at for that didn’t stand out for me.

light. Related Story. SDCC 2019: 15 things we want to see in The Walking Dead season 10 trailer

My mom starts chemotherapy next week and I know that the hardest part of her fight is yet to come, and I’m thankful that she has something to keep her mind off what’s coming. I always wondered why she never watched Fear the Walking Dead and now I think that it was always meant to be this way so that we can enjoy it now, together.

I know there are other stories out there of how the shows have helped people through trying times. I would love to hear those stories. If you have a story to share, please feel free to share it in the comments or on social media.